It’s nearly impossible to find any uplifting stories on the news these days — the economy’s still crashing, people are losing jobs — so when an album titled the Happiness Project comes out, you can’t help wonder if the disc is just a sarcastic joke. Turns out Charles Spearin’s debut record, which came out in February, is as uplifting as the title suggests.

The Happiness Project isn’t a collection of infectious pop tunes, though — far from it. Spearin, who makes his living as a member of Broken Social Scene and Do May Say Think, recorded his neighbours talking about what makes them happy, and then put music to the melodies of their voices. The result is a thought provoking, avant garde look at what makes people tick.

“I geared the conversation towards what they thought was important in life, specifically happiness,” says Spearin. “The subject of happiness has naïve connotations, but at the same time it’s what everyone wants in life. People say they want peace or justice or health and money, but those are all means to happiness.”

The irony of releasing something called the Happiness Project as Canadians become increasingly worried about life is not lost on Spearin, but there is something all those anxious people can take away from this record.

“Happiness isn’t totally dependent on economics,” says Spearin. “Generally, there’s a certain point where you have to gave certain amount of wealth to get by, but when you reach that point, happiness and wealth have very little to do with each other. My neighbours are saying happiness is love. That’s important to remember when the economic situation isn’t so good.”

For Spearin, happiness is about family — he has two children — and community, so it makes sense that he recorded his daughter and his neighbours. He could have recorded his many musician friends too, but he wanted to keep the stories as local as possible.

“My neighbourhood has become more important to me now that I have two little kids,” he explains. “It’s a bigger part of my life right now. I spend a lot of time on the porch. Downtown Toronto has plenty of problems, but it’s a really vibrant and healthy place and I wanted to represent that. And, the more I travel the more I appreciate where I come from.”

Capturing the neighbourhood’s positive mood was, to Spearin’s surprise, relatively easy. He says that the stories, and the accompanying music, came naturally. “There were moments in what people said that was quite beautiful and inspiring,” he says.

It’s easy to see that Spearin is thrilled with the end result, but so are his interview subjects. “Mrs. Morris (the woman talking in the track Mrs. Morris) gave me a call the day after we preformed the album in Toronto and said she felt like a new born baby, because she got so many hugs at the show.”

If that’s not happiness, then what is?

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